Wildlife photographer, videographer talks about unique deer

‘Shadowing The White Deer’

MARQUETTE — “Ghost deer” sounds much more poetic than “melanin-deprived cervid.” Whatever you call it, an albino white-tailed deer seen in the wild is a memory that probably will last a lifetime.

Jeff Richter of northern Wisconsin has spent countless hours photographing white deer. The wildlife photographer, videographer and publisher of Nature’s Press visited Marquette Monday to present his new documentary, “Shadowing the White Deer,” at the Peter White Public Library.

Richter appeared on the PBS show, Nature, in an episode entitled “The Private Life of Deer,” which premiered in May 2013. The filmmakers visited Richter at his Wisconsin home, talking to him about his experiences photographing the special deer. In fact, some of Richter’s video footage of the white animals was used in the half-hour production.

“Somehow these white ones just really connect with people,” Richter said — and everybody that’s seen one seems to remember exactly when and where they were when they saw their first one.

Somehow, a person’s first sighting of a raccoon wouldn’t have the same effect, he said.

“I’ve been photographing these animals for about 20 years and I still am thrilled every time I see one,” Richter said.

It should be noted that not all white deer are albino, and the ones with white and brown fur are piebald. According to Prairie State Outdoors, an animal is considered leucistic when hair lacks coloring pigment, but the eyes, noses and hooves have normal coloration.

Richter worked on the documentary for three years, with two years spent photographing them. However, he also had human interaction.

“As I started to interview people that have seen white deer and getting their stories, it became very clear to me that there was just this wonderful human connection to these animals, and that the stories sort of evolved towards that, more so than just a straight-up natural history film,” Richter said.

The documentary blends stunning video of white deer and interviews, with Richter providing narration.

Wisconsin naturalist Zach Wilson talked about the white deer’s history, reading from an old journal that mentioned White Deer Lake.

“Right there, in 1846, the Native Americans had obviously seen these animals, and appreciated them so much that they named this lake after it,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of a neat little passage that that animal still exists today.”

Carol Ashley, owner of the Northern Highlands Sports shop in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, said white deer have a certain presence about them.

“You just have an awe about you if you see them,” Ashley said. “If you see them in the spring, the big bucks in pink velvet — the pink velvet alone makes them special.”

In the documentary, Richter explained how he had to learn, over the years, deer habitat and other features to get good shots.

The scientific explanation of how recessive genes produce an albino deer also was given, but what probably will grab the viewer more are the images of the white deer in various stages of life.

He also talked about his encounters.

“I was sneaking along in the woods and just noticed this white blob,” Richter said. “It doesn’t seem to quite fit, and then all of a sudden a head bobs up.”

It was then he became “instantly hooked” by these nature novelties.

Richter recalled the time he saw a white doe with a white fawn. Actually, there were two fawns.

“One of them was just white as snow,” Richter said, with the other one more cream-colored.

Coming upon such scenes undoubtedly is a good side benefit of having the patience and skill to be a wildlife photographer.

“I felt so blessed, after all that time and all that effort, to all of a sudden, there’s just this beautiful little fawn,” Richter said.

It’s illegal to hunt white or albino deer in Wisconsin, but legal in Michigan. In fact, laws vary throughout the United States.

Hunting these deer is controversial. Many people want them protected, Richter included, but others do not. A recent Outdoor News article led off thusly: “The expanding presence of white/albino deer in Wisconsin continues to captivate — and perplex — sportsmen and the general public. State law protects white and albino deer, thus denying hunting opportunities to many sportsmen while inhibiting deer management efforts in some respects.

“Nowhere is the issue more acute right now than in Wood County where a growing white deer population exists. Smaller populations exist in neighboring Clark and Marathon counties. White deer are common in a line from St. Germain in Oneida County to Sayner to Boulder Junction in Vilas County.”

Richter opined on the subject in his documentary.

“I just think they’re such unique, beautiful and unusual animals that people just are amazed by, so why shoot them?” Richter said.

White deer also have found a special place in his world.

“It’s hard to put into words how profoundly these deer have affected my life, both personally and professionally,” Richter said. “I think in a lot of ways they’ve helped me realize my own uniqueness and to see beyond the end of my nose.”

For more information on Richter and his photos, books and the documentary, visit http://naturespressbooks.com/.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.